Since I invented the term, I guess I should define it.
No, it’s not “Asian-flavored steampunk.” No, it’s not “Asian-influenced fantasy.” No, it’s not …
It’s a very specific technology and literary aesthetic. Let me explain:
As I wrote the Dandelion Dynasty, a grand tale of both technology and magic, melding past-reinterpretation with future-hopecrafting, drawing on literary traditions from across the world, I struggled to explain the book to people.
“Silkpunk” was the shorthand I came up with to describe the technology aesthetic I wanted for the Dandelion Dynasty series as well as the literary approach I used in composing the books.
In crafting the silkpunk aesthetic, I was influenced by the ideas of W. Brian Arthur, who articulates a vision of technology as language. The task of the engineer is much like that of a poet in that the engineer must creatively combine existing components to solve novel problems, thereby devising artifacts that are new expressions in the technical language.
In the silkpunk world of my novels, this view of technology is dominant. The vocabulary of the technology language relies on materials of historical importance to the people of East Asia and the Pacific islands: bamboo, shells, coral, paper, silk, feathers, sinew, etc. The grammar of the language puts more emphasis on biomimetics–the airships regulate their lift by analogy with the swim bladders of fish, and the submarines move like whales through the water. The engineers are celebrated as great artists who transform the existing language and evolve it toward ever more beautiful forms.
Similarly, the literary approach itself mixes and matches elements from diverse global literary traditions that I feel at home in, and tropes and techniques from East Asian historical romances are deliberately juxtaposed and combined with elements from Western epic narratives. The text itself reflects the same poet-engineer mindset. The Aeneid, Records of the Grand Historian, Paradise Lost, Beowulf, Han Dynasty poetry … all served as sources of inspiration, re-invented and re-purposed to tell a brand-new tale.
Finally, the “-punk” suffix in this case is functional. The silkpunk novels are about rebellion, resistance, re-appropriation and rejuvenation of tradition, and defiance of authority, key “punk” aesthetic pillars. The Dandelion Dynasty books are ultimately a story about modernity and the constitutive story we tell to feel at home in it.
- I wrote a discussion on silkpunk in the Dandelion Dynasty as a meditation on American modernity for FanFiAddict.
- Emily Xueni Jin wrote about her view of silkpunk as cosmopolitan writing in the age of decolonization for Sixth Tone.